The Right Way To Hold The Guitar Pick That Helps you Improve Your Guitar Playing Most Quickly
by Tom Hess
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This article shows you the right way to hold the guitar pick...
...so you can improve your guitar playing with a variety of guitar techniques.
The first thing to know about holding the guitar pick is:
It’s not as hard as many people make it out to be!
You don’t need to experiment with dozens of possible ways of holding the guitar pick to find the best one.
The best way to hold the guitar pick is quite simple to understand and learn.
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Even if you learned a different (but less efficient) way of holding the guitar pick in the past, it won’t take long to learn a new (better) way of holding the guitar pick.
And when you do – you’ll improve your guitar playing much faster than before.
To begin, watch this video tutorial about the best way to hold the guitar pick:
Now that you understand the best way to hold the guitar pick, here is how to use this knowledge to improve your guitar playing with a variety of guitar techniques.
Holding The Guitar Pick When Doing Thumb Muting
As you may know – thumb muting is a very effective way to mute unwanted guitar string noise. What you do (while holding your guitar pick) is rest your thumb on the lower in pitch strings.
The thumb then slides up and down the guitar strings as you play - keeping your playing clean. This is a fantastic way to improve your guitar playing by getting more control over string noise.
And when you follow (what I consider to be) the best way to hold the guitar pick, you make thumb muting not only possible, but very easy to do.
Here is why:
Your thumb doesn't hang over the edge of the pick when you know the right way to hold the guitar pick.
This means, you don't accidentally play pinch harmonics or mute the notes you are trying to play. (More on this below.)
Question: “Tom Hess, what’s wrong with playing pinch harmonics? Pinch harmonics sound great!”
Answer: Yes, they do… but they only sound great when you intend to play them. They don’t sound so great when you want to play clear notes, but hear unwanted harmonics instead. That’s why finding the best way to hold the guitar pick (that lets you play pinch harmonics when you want to play them, but not at any other time) is important.
That’s yet another reason to use what I found to be the best way to hold the guitar pick (the one I showed you in the video at the top of this page).
Note: you can also mute string noise with the unused fingers of your picking hand.
For example: I often use my ring finger (and pinkie) of my picking hand to rest on the higher in pitch strings as I play. This further helps to keep my playing clean (while my index finger and thumb are holding the guitar pick like I described above).
I’ve taught hundreds of my students to do this too and I recommend you do the same if you want to improve your guitar playing most quickly.
Here is what this technique looks like:
Question: “Tom Hess, is it also possible to mute excess string noise using the fretting hand?”
Answer: Yes. But this area of muting string noise has nothing to do with the right way to hold the guitar pick one way or the other. If you want to learn more about other ways to mute excess string noise, read this guitar technique article.
Holding The Guitar Pick While Doing Directional Picking
First – regardless of how you are holding the guitar pick – let’s answer the question: why even do directional picking?
I recommend you use directional picking for the same reason I recommend to you my way of holding the guitar pick, which is:
Directional picking is quite simply the most efficient guitar technique and one of the fastest ways to improve your guitar playing.
Here is what I mean:
With strict alternate picking, you often have to skip over the string you intend to play, just to conform to the strict “downstroke must be followed by up an upstroke” rule.
To me, this never made any sense. If you want to improve your guitar playing as quickly as possible, it’s better to go directly to the string you intend to play next. And do it regardless of what pick stroke happened before.
Hence: Directional picking
Want to see it in action? Watch this video and start using directional picking to improve your guitar playing faster:
Now: what does directional picking have to do with the right way to hold the guitar pick?
A lot, actually.
Because when you hold the guitar pick the way I teach (and combine it with the thumb muting technique of muting excess string noise), your guitar pick ends up at rest in the trenches of the strings.
This helps you to do directional picking with maximum efficiency and achieve maximum guitar speed with minimal time and effort.
Watch this video to see what I mean:
When you hold the guitar pick differently (or if you don’t use thumb muting and instead mute using your palm)…
… there is an above average chance your guitar pick will end up moving at an angle away from the strings as you play.
This makes your technique less efficient and gets in the way of your efforts to improve your guitar playing.
All the more reason to adapt the way of holding the guitar pick I recommend.
Holding The Guitar Pick When Doing Pinch Harmonics
When you hold the guitar pick differently from what I showed at the start of this article, you can often end up with pinch harmonics when you least expect them.
(Such as, when playing regular scales or arpeggios for example.)
This is especially likely to happen when you try to do thumb muting, but you are holding the guitar pick on the side of your index finger and your thumb is hanging over the edge of the pick.
When that happens, your thumb will accidentally hit the string you are attempting to play – causing unwanted harmonics.
This is no good.
Here is what you need to know about holding the guitar pick for pinch harmonics:
The best way to hold the guitar pick does NOT require you to change the way you’re holding the guitar pick to get the harmonics to come out. (If you find yourself having to change your thumb placement or anything else in how you are holding the guitar pick – it means you are not using the best way to hold the guitar pick).
The proper way to do pinch harmonics is: flick the wrist up, so the thumb can tilt down and touch the string you are trying to do the harmonic on. (And then remove the thumb from the string immediately, so the harmonic can ring out.)
As an added benefit of thumb muting (made possible when you adapt what I believe is the best way to hold the guitar pick) you can also mute sloppy string noise around harmonics.
Tip: whether you are trying to improve at pinch harmonics or simply want to make sure you are using the right way to hold the guitar pick…
… watch your picking hand into a mirror from the side.
This way you can tell if you are changing something in the way you hold the guitar pick as you do the pinch harmonic.
If you are – then this is your clue that you need a different way to hold the guitar pick.
Holding The Guitar Pick When Doing Sweep Picking
When you hold the guitar pick like I described in the video at the top of this article – it makes it easy to improve your guitar playing with sweep picking.
Here is why: holding the guitar pick between the pad of helps avoid rocking your picking hand back and forth (a common mistake) as you switch from ascending an arpeggio to descending.
When you rest your thumb on the lower in pitch strings (which is possible when you use the way of holding the guitar pick I teach)…
… your picking hand moves consistently up and down without any twisting or turning.
More importantly, holding the guitar pick the way I teach helps you to learn the motions of pushing the guitar pick through the strings (to ascend an arpeggio as you sweep pick) and drag your hand back to descend the arpeggio.
That means: when you are sweep picking – your guitar pick only does 2 motions (one motion to sweep through all the strings to ascend the arpeggio) and one motion to descend.
When you master the right way to hold the guitar pick – it makes it easy to sweep pick this way. (Which makes it very easy to improve your guitar playing with sweep picking.)
Watch this video to see what I mean by: “pushing the pick through the strings and pulling the pick back through the strings”:
Holding The Guitar Pick When Doing Legato
“Woah, what does the right way to hold the guitar pick have to do with legato?”, I hear you ask.
The answer is: more than you may realize.
That’s because when you do legato, your pick generally strikes the first note on each string you play. (And then you play hammer ons, pull offs and slides on that string until you change strings).
To do this right, your guitar pick needs to do 2 things:
- Your guitar pick needs to rest against the string you are going to play next (while your fretting hand is playing hammer ons, pull offs, slides, vibrato and string bends on the current string).
- Your guitar pick needs to help control excess string noise as you play legato (even though you are not picking any notes in that moment).
Do this right and your legato playing becomes clean, smooth and controlled. And the way you hold the guitar pick is a big part of making this happen.
Want more help with improving your guitar playing with legato? Watch this legato technique video:
Another legato tip: there are 2 more things (related to your picking hand and how you hold the guitar pick) that make your legato notes sustain better:
- your level of control over excess string noise
- the power you achieve in your pick attack.
Both of these things are easy to master when you follow my advice on the best way to hold the guitar pick.
Now that you know the best way to hold the guitar pick, the next step is to improve your guitar playing in all other areas and start playing guitar at a level you can feel really proud of.
I can help you with this in my personalized Breakthrough Guitar Lessons. Unlike some other guitar lessons, you don’t get generic, cookie-cutter lessons from me.
You get guitar lessons personalized to your specific guitar playing challenges, musical skill level, musical interests, and of course: your unique musical goals. Hundreds of my guitar students are experiencing nearly lifechanging breakthroughs in their playing as we speak.
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About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Want to finally reach your guitar playing goals? Learn how by studying with the best online guitar teacher.
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